Analysis of Complex Solution Strategies

We have already mentioned the possibility of using technology to assess solution moves in the context of problem-solving simulations. One of the most sophisticated examples of such analyses is offered by the IMMEX (Interactive Multimedia Exercises) program (Vendlinski and Stevens, 2000), which uses complex neural network technology to make sense of (interpret) the actions students take during the course of problem solving. IMMEX was originally developed for use in teaching and assessing the diagnostic skills of medical students. It now consists of a variety of software tools for authoring complex, multimove problem-solving tasks and for collecting performance data on those tasks, with accompanying analysis methods. The moves an individual makes in solving a problem in the IMMEX system are tracked, and the path through the solution space can be presented graphically, as well as compared against patterns previously exhibited by both skilled and less-skilled problem solvers. The IMMEX tools have been used for the design and analysis of complex problem solving in a variety of contexts, ranging from medical school to science at the college and K-12 level.

In one IMMEX problem set called True Roots, learners play the part of forensic scientists trying to identify the real parents of a baby who may have been switched with another in a maternity ward. Students can access data from various experts, such as police and hospital staff, and can conduct laboratory tests such as blood typing and DNA analysis. Students can also analyze maps of their own problem-solving patterns, in which various nodes and links represent different paths of reasoning (Lawton, 1998).

A core technology used for data analysis in the IMMEX system is artificial neural networks. These networks are used to abstract identifiable patterns of moves on a given problem from the data for many individuals who have attempted solutions, including individuals separately rated as excellent, average, or poor problem solvers. In this way, profiles can be abstracted that support the assignment of scores reflecting the accuracy and quality of the solution process. In one example of such an application, the neural network analysis of solution patterns was capable of identifying different levels of performance as defined by scores on the National Board of Medical Examiners computer-based clinical scenario exam (Casillas, Clyman, Fan, and Stevens, 2000). Similar work has been done using artificial neural network analysis tools to examine solution strategy patterns for chemistry problems (Vendlinski and Stevens, 2000).

Enhancing the Overall Design Process

The above discussion illustrates specific ways in which technology can assist in assessment design by supporting particular sets of linkages within

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